newsdesk

Wild Appointments

So what qualifications does it take to get put in charge of the great outdoors in Texas? On Friday, Gov. Rick Perry announced three new appointments to the board of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. First up there's Karen Hixon (already on the board of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the Peregrine Fund based in Boise, the advisory board for the Trust for Public Land and the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center, as well as previously serving with Environmental Defense, San Antonio Zoological Society and Texas Nature Conservancy). Then there's Margaret Martin (a rancher, chair of the Webb County Texas Cooperative Extension Leadership Advisory Board, Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee, and the Wildlife and Fisheries Committee.) And filling out the numbers is Dr. Antonio Falcon, a doctor from Rio Grande City.

So, apart from being named after a bird of prey, what exactly what are the good doctor's qualifications for running this massive, cash-strapped and over-burdened state organ? Well, until 2001 he sat on the Nursing Facility Administrators Advisory Committee. He was also on Perry's infamous pro-privatization 2005 Medicaid Reform work group, and in 2003 was co-chair of the "Yes on 12" committee, boosting Perry's pet project Proposition 12, which limited medical malpractice payments.

Hang on, there must be some connection to wildlife and park management in his resume, right? It can't just be that he's a loyal supporter of Perry, right? Right? Read More | Comment »

State 9:09AM Thu. Aug. 23, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Big News Day

Local 4:42PM Wed. Aug. 22, 2007, Wells Dunbar

SAFER Strikes Again in Denver

The alcohol-pot equalization effort drama continues to unfold in Denver, where city council members on Monday approved the signatures needed to place a new pot initiative – making minor pot possession the lowest policing priority – on the November ballot. The group behind the initiative effort, Safer Alternatives For Enjoyable Recreation, was also behind the city’s successful 2005 ballot measure that removed criminal penalties for possession of minor amounts of pot by adults. (Not that this has stopped cops from arresting adults in possession, which they’re bound to do, they say, because state and federal law outlaw pot.) The ultimate goal, SAFER director Mason Tvert has said, is to have the law treat pot and booze the same.

Still, many on the Denver council aren’t too jiggy with the measure, including Mayor John Hickenlooper who, ironically, is a brewery operator. That many council members enjoy adult beverages hasn’t exactly stopped the anti-pot rhetoric flowing from the dais: “I want to issue a challenge to those pushing this initiative,” council President Michael Hancock said in an Aug. 21 story in the Rocky Mountain News. “I hope you’ll go and spend time with the children abandoned and left behind by drug-addicted parents. I guarantee you’ll find marijuana is a gateway drug to harsher addictions.”

Hmmm. What about booze? Indeed, says Tvert, alcohol “contributes more to death and destruction than any other substance.” In all, he says, the Denver council is drinking from the well of hypocrisy with this one: “They are alcohol users opposed to people using a different drug.” Read More | 1 Comment »

Reefer Madness 3:58PM Wed. Aug. 22, 2007, Jordan Smith

POTUS Candidates on Pot, Pt. 2

At an Aug. 22 campaign stop in New Hampshire, Illinois Senator and Prez candidate Barack Obama finally came outta the closet to support a ban on using federal resources to raid and prosecute seriously ill patients that use medi-pot in compliance with state law, according to medi-mari advocates, Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana.

Obama was the last Dem candidate to publicly pledge his support for ending the raids. “I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users,” Obama said in response to a question by GSMM volunteer Scott Turner. “It’s not a good use of our resources.”

No shit.

With Obama on board there are now 11 prez candidates – all eight Democratic candidates and three Republicans (Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, and former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson) – that have vowed to end the raids in the 12 states that have legalized the use of medi-mari by qualified patients. “For the first time in history, the leaders of one of our nation’s major parties have unanimously called for an end to the federal prosecution” of pot patients, said GSMM campaign manager Stuart Cooper. “Compassion and reason are finally overcoming politics and propaganda.”

At least one would hope. Read More | Comment »

Reefer Madness 3:26PM Wed. Aug. 22, 2007, Jordan Smith

Perry vs. the European Union

Apparently, nicely asking Gov. Rick Perry to stop executing kids and people with mental retardation is tantamount to imperialism.

Yesterday, the European Union issued a statement asking Perry to contemplate a moratorium on executions. Perry responded quickly and in no uncertain terms. Sometimes it's just best to let the press release from the governor's office speak for itself. According to Perry's flack, Robert Black, “230 years ago, our forefathers fought a war to throw off the yoke of a European monarch and gain the freedom of self-determination. Texans long ago decided that the death penalty is a just and appropriate punishment for the most horrible crimes committed against our citizens. While we respect our friends in Europe, welcome their investment in our state and appreciate their interest in our laws, Texans are doing just fine governing Texas.”

Erm … which would be fine, but the real gist of it is that the EU was concerned about the fact that Texas is just about to have its 400th execution since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. Oh, and that four of the five executions scheduled nation-wide this week take place here. And the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the execution of minors and people with mental retardation unconstitutional. Oh, and that Texas didn't actually get rid of European rule until Spain left in 1821, but that's nit-picking.

But Chronic is just wondering: if the governor is thinking about a vice-presidential run, he better learn that playing to the base might not always make for good diplomacy training. Read More | Comment »

State 3:10PM Wed. Aug. 22, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Richardson Tells Bush to Back Off

New Mexico Governor and Democratic Prez candidate Bill Richardson on Aug. 17 fired off a letter to Prez George W. Bush, urging him to end the feds' "heartless" policy of harassing seriously ill medi-pot patients who use the drug in compliance with state laws.

The Bush Administration has reportedly threatened to target New Mexico state officials with federal prosecution in the event that New Mexico lawmakers passed a medi-pot law – which they did earlier this year, making the Land of Enchantment the 12th state to pass a law legalizing the use of medi-mari by seriously ill patients. Richardson said Friday that he would fight any such efforts at "intimidation," and pledged to use all state resources available to fully implement the new law. Richardson also directed the state Dept. of Health to continue with implementation plans -- including fulfilling a provision that would have the state devise a means to guarantee patient access to medicinal pot. Read More | Comment »

Reefer Madness 3:05PM Wed. Aug. 22, 2007, Jordan Smith

Will Immigration Make or Break Cornyn?

John Cornyn doesn’t yet know who his Democratic opponent will be, but Texas’ junior U.S. senator knows that immigration reform is a landmine issue that can’t be avoided. And he’s not shying away from it – he addressed what he called “the single most significant domestic issue facing our country today” head-on at Tuesday’s meeting of the Rotary Club of Austin.

“I have never seen an issue that the people got more engaged,” Cornyn said. “A lot of you wrote, e-mailed, faxed, phone called, showed up at gatherings like this, and asked the tough questions, as you should, about what in the world the United States Congress is doing when it comes to immigration reform." Read More | Comment »

State 2:29PM Wed. Aug. 22, 2007, Lee Nichols

City Council Notebook

Agenda highlights for the Thursday, August 23, City Council meeting.

Why So Short? edition

Item 4: Authorizing city staff the ability to negotiate and execute an ABIA contract for a low-income airline terminal. Seems some on council are increasingly pissed about vesting the "execute" function in staff, when only sparse guidelines exist – here, the "no-frills" rental to cost no less than $0.22 per square foot. Will push back come today?

Item 35: 10:30am presentation of the highlights and statistics of the Office of the Police Monitor. Hmm …

12pm Citizen Communications: More Southwest Key controversy, charter revision and city retaliation talk, and Three Minutes of Uncomfortable: CarolAnneRose Kennedy's III SAFE BLIND MOUTHS PRESIDENTIAL VISE ASPIRIN. ATIONS.

Item 42: 2pm presentation of the proposed Public Safety budget (Municipal Court; the Public Safety and Emergency Management Department; the Austin Fire Department; the Emergency Medical Services Department and, the Austin Police Department.)

Item 43: 3pm public hearing and possible action (?) "to receive comment on the profile of a new City Manager." Uhh, someone who's really smart and pretty and funny and trains unicorns and shits rainbows! Or, as our mayor, brain in Graceland last time we checked, says, one of the "rock stars … out there in municipal management." To-to-totally dude!

Items 46, 47: Zoning for the University Hills/ Windsor Park Neighborhood Plan Combining District

5:30pm Proclamations: "COA Boards & Commissions Recognition Event – to be presented by Mayor Will Wynn and to be accepted by Dave Sullivan and Dave Anderson." A hell of a joke in there, somewhere … Read More | 2 Comments »

Local 12:01PM Wed. Aug. 22, 2007, Wells Dunbar

Change for the Bus

Much as we may all whine and complain about Capital Metro, it's a lot better than the bus services in many towns and cities. For a start, we have one, which knocks most places into a cocked hat.

The big issue is always the price of tickets, especially with the proposed fare hike. As of Jan 1, 2008, Capmetro is proposing to double the basic price to ride, from 50¢ to $1. "All other fares," they add on the website, "would be adjusted proportionately." Meaning, presumably, doubled.

But at least there's some chance for public input about public transport. Capmetro will be holding a series of community forums over the next week. They start tomorrow at the Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center, and then there's several more around the city, culminating in a public meeting with the board of directors on September 17.

See below the fold for times and dates, and have your say on what you want to pay. Read More | 8 Comments »

Local 10:45AM Wed. Aug. 22, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Leffingwell Gets Faulked Over?

Don't forget the John Henry Faulk B-day celebration tonight, going down at Zilker Park: check our Events page for all the details.

Be sure to get there early for the 6:30 homage to the Lounging Philosophers, an exchange which should be illuminating – espeically for one of the participants, City Council member Lee Leffingwell. Talking to Lee today, he said he agreed to take part in the festivities – except he didn't learn until today he'd be facing off against Save our Springs Alliance leader Bill Bunch (no hard feelings there, right?). Hell, we're even a little confused as to what exactly's going down – a reading, a re-enactment of Leffingwell's bruising face-off against Bunch over the defeated "clean water/clean government" amendments from last year, or just some all-around Springs loving. Show up tonight to find out. Read More | Comment »

Local 3:58PM Tue. Aug. 21, 2007, Wells Dunbar

UK Out of Iraq?

While everyone else seems to be ignoring the September deadline for the Iraq surge, the highest ranking officer in the UK military seems to be standing by it.

According to The Scotsman newspaper, UK Chief of the General Staff Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt has called for the withdrawal of British forces from Iraq and their redeployment to Afghanistan. The UK currently has 5,500 troops in Iraq, located around Basra. Dannatt has called for them to move back to the airport, hand the area over to the Iraqis, and then withdraw. 2,000 of them would be free to join the existing force of 7,000 fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Read More | Comment »

National 5:45PM Mon. Aug. 20, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Campaign Karl

Can Karl Rove really help any Republican seeking elected office? Getting past the association with the Bush administration that most GOP presidential candidates are trying to avoid, is his rep as the campaign killer still really intact?

During the ’06 election, Chronic happened to be talking to a well-placed GOP campaign insider (and not some local apparatchik, either) and he (yeah, that’s the only clue you’re getting) recounted the story of the poll numbers. He had seen the gloomy internal Republican poll numbers, the ones that turned out be surprisingly accurate (i.e., that they’d lose Congress). However, Rove was wandering around, poo-pooing that data, and saying that he had his own research that showed a sunnier, Bushier future. "You have your numbers,” he would say, “but I have THE numbers."

What raised some eyebrows amongst the party operatives was that no-one seemingly ever got to see those mythical "THE" numbers. Which meant that either he was making up numbers for internal consumption (a trust-breaking cardinal sin amongst electioneers) or his radar was way off. Either way, that raised questions about whether he was a good campaign man anymore: because defending an incumbent and winning an all-bets-off race are totally different ballgames.

Of course, he’s as well known for his attack dog tactics and “schoolboy fun” approach to electioneering (also what was known in the Nixon era as ratfucking, so plus ça change). However, that was always done through proxies and cat’s paws (allegedly), so going on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show and MSNBC’s Meet The Press to go after Hilary Clinton scarcely seems like the backstage manipulator of old. Read More | Comment »

National 2:21PM Mon. Aug. 20, 2007, Richard Whittaker

The Abbott and the Hare

Attorney General Greg Abbott issued a triumphant press release on Thursday that he had gained a permanent injunction against an unlicensed assisted living facility in Austin. “The Office of the Attorney General is committed to Texas seniors,” said Abbott. “Texans can rest assured that we will aggressively crack down on caregivers who violate the law.”

But let's check Merriam-Webster on that "aggressive" thing: "Marked by combative readiness … spreading rapidly." In October 2004, the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services forwarded their files on Jeffery Duvall and Karl Like, responsible for Austin's Celebrate Life at Triple Oaks, to Abbott. DADS found four elderly residents in appalling conditions. One, according to Abbott, was kept in a sealed room with boarded-up windows. DADS closed the facility and moved the residents out, but has since informed Abbott that Duvall may have been running other unlicensed homes around the state.

Now, on the third anniversary of the original DADS inspection, there's finally a judgment. The Travis County District Court fined Duvall $72,000, plus $29,440 in attorneys’ fees and court costs, and bound him from running a similar facility until he gets a license. But three years? Where's the "combative readiness" and "spreading rapidly" there? Read More | Comment »

Local 1:50PM Mon. Aug. 20, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Perry's Eyes on the Prize?

There's been a lot of speculation that Gov. Rick Perry is thinking about a run for the Republican vice-presidential nomination. First there was the recent trip by his campaign guy Dave Carney to New York to sniff around publishers. As Jim Moore (co-author with Wayne Slater of Karl Rove biographies The Architect and Bush's Brain) put it, "any time a governor or senator goes in search of a book deal, you know they're planning something." Then there was his recent foreign-policy-credentials-building trip to Israel – the first real international destination, as Moore noted, for then-governor and Perry role-model President George Bush. As Ed Sills, director of communications for the Texas AFL-CIO, told Chronic, "Does this sound like a man not interested in the vice presidency or the U.S. Senate?"

Now there's another development. Rep. Anna Mowery, R-Fort Worth, announced she was retiring at session's end, back in May. Fair enough, 20 years there must be enough for anybody. However, she then clarified this to say that she wasn't going to sit through the entire interim, and her resignation was effective as of August 13. This meant Perry had to schedule a special election to fill her seat for the rest of the session - the session with no session in it.

Now there's a few theories about why she did this. Maybe she just didn't want to be drawing that paycheck when she knew she wouldn't be serving her constituents next session. Maybe the commute was just getting to her. Or maybe it's that she didn't want to be stuck in a special session, and "no more lege" really meant "no more lege." Since Perry already said he might call one for an Iran divestment bill, did Mowery know something we didn't? Read More | Comment »

On the Lege 9:28AM Mon. Aug. 20, 2007, Richard Whittaker

Statesman Transportation Writer Can't Read Road Signs

So the city of Austin would like to build a $4 million bicycle bridge on a southern section of MoPac to encourage southwest Austinites to use Loop 1 to commute to work. But the Austin American-Statesman's transportation columnist Ben Wear took a bold stand against it this morning. Pure boondoggle, he insists. Why? Well, the first reason he lists is, "I commute down North MoPac every day, have for years, and in all that time I don't remember ever seeing someone riding a bike down the shoulder. On Loop 360, yes, all the time, mostly for exercise and recreation. But MoPac? No. South side commuters can tell me whether they've ever seen anyone down that way on MoPac."

Now, to be fair to Wear, the city's bicycle manager Annick Baudet didn't help him out much – she told him that (his paraphrase) "People don't commute on MoPac, at least down south, because there's no separate (and safer) bridge over Barton Creek's deep gorge."

We here at Chronic have another theory: Perhaps bicyclists don't use MoPac to commute because of the signs at every entrance that specifically ban bicycles on that highway. Just a thought.

MINOR EDIT: Okay, we should have said almost every entrance. We checked out the south end of MoPac, and there is actually no sign right before the Barton Creek bridge. But the signs begin at the very next entrance, and anyway, the bridge's shoulder is so narrow that attempting to cross it on bike would be suicide, so the notion that bikes could commute there is theoretical at best. In any case, we're amazed that the person working the transportation beat at our daily paper thought that cyclists were avoiding MoPac purely by choice. Read More | 11 Comments »

Local 8:11AM Mon. Aug. 20, 2007, Lee Nichols

Bush: The New Mr. Blackwell?

Straight from the "haven't you got bigger things to worry about?" files: it seems that the Crawford ranch (a.k.a. the world's biggest producer of cleared brush) has got into a sartorial kerfuffle.

Marques Harper wrote a fairly innocuous story for the Austin-American Statesman and the Waco Tribune Herald about President Bush's fashion statements. However, according to the Washington Post, the day after it ran in Waco, she got a call. From the White House.

It seems White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino phoned Harper to complain about him comparing the Presidential garb to Chuck Norris (seriously, like anyone can compare to the man Bruce Lee called America's best martial artist). The positive side is that at least the White House press office is keeping track of what the Central Texas media is saying.

All of which reminds Chronic of the last time former Clinton campaign adviser and Longhorn alum Paul Begala was in town, talking to the students of UT. "What's the difference between my ranch and his?" asked Begala of the crowd. "Mine actually has cattle on it." Read More | Comment »

National 9:51PM Fri. Aug. 17, 2007, Richard Whittaker

City Planning: Goodbye Riley, Hello Weiss

The city Planning Commission saw the departure of member Chris Riley this week. Riley, an attorney, has served three two-year terms since August 2001, when City Council redefined the Planning Commission and split off some of its duties (in areas without adopted Neighborhood Plans) to the Zoning and Platting Commission. The Planning Commission votes on proposed zoning changes before they go to council– making it one the few commissions with real power. Commissioners also recommend changes to the city's master plan, vote on land use changes within neighborhood planning areas, and annually recommend capital improvements. Read More | Comment »

Local 10:09AM Fri. Aug. 17, 2007, Katherine Gregor

E-Voting? No Sale

After failing to find a buyer for its beleaguered electronic voting division, ATM manufacturer Diebold Inc. has done the next best thing and given it a new name. The firm announced that, as of today, its Allen, TX, based electronic voting division, Diebold Election Systems, will be known as Premier Election Solutions.

This change will, the press release notes, "create a more independent structure for its elections systems subsidiary." Of course, the firm's independence has been in question ever since its then-CEO (and Bush booster) Walden O'Dell said he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." In reality, the division has been a pr millstone ever since the firm took over Global Election Systems in 2002 to create their voting division.

Shares in Diebold dropped 3.34% on the New York Stock Exchange today. They'd been buoyant for much of the year, but sluggish sales and resistance to e-voting in many states had made market analysts downgrade it from a "buy" to a "hold" recommendation. There's no word on how this will affect the other Texas-based electronic voting machine vendor, Austin's privately-owned Hart Intercivic. However, if investors are getting cagey about investing in an election machine firm the year before a presidential election, that's a bad sign for proponents of dropping votes into the digital abyss. Read More | Comment »

National 5:44PM Thu. Aug. 16, 2007, Richard Whittaker

CHIP Changes Kick In Sept. 1

The changes to the Children's Health Insurance Program that passed in the last legislative session go into effect Sept. 1. Texas families who are enrolled in CHIP will no longer have to reapply for the program every six months; they will stay in the program a full year before having to enroll again. Another change is that most families will be able to enroll in the program immediately instead of waiting 90 days for coverage. The changes are part of an effort by the Texas Legislature to expand CHIP, which covers children from families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicare, but too low to afford private insurance. During a budget crunch in 2003, the Legislature passed rules that cut the half-million or so children covered by the program by almost half; however, when news reports surfaced of sick children denied coverage by CHIP, the Legislature moved last session to reverse some of those restrictions. Read More | Comment »

State 4:00PM Thu. Aug. 16, 2007, Michael May

ACT Stats Ranking Texas Students on College Readiness Grim

Texas continues to lag behind the national average on ACT scores, although students have made recent, significant gains – from 20.3 last year up to 20.5 this year. The national composite average on the ACT this year was 21.1. In Texas, the SAT dominates over the ACT when it comes to college entrance exams. While the number of students in Texas taking the ACT is high, it's still only 30% of all students. ACT statistics ranking Texas students on college readiness are grim. According to scores, only 19% of the students who take the test would be considered college ready in English, math, science, and social studies. When it comes to African-American students, that number drops to 4%; for Latinos, it's only 7%. Read More | Comment »

State 3:42PM Thu. Aug. 16, 2007, Kimberly Reeves

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